(Metagame Archive) Voices from the Field: The New Tier 1

By Ben Kalman

PC Amsterdam has come and gone, and two important events have taken place (aside from the winners and stuff . . . but who really cares about that?). The first is the establishment of Modern Age and a glimpse at what could form the Modern Age metagame. The second is Dean Sohnle’s and Rich Edbury’s burying of all opponents to push Dean’s Fantastic Fun deck into Tier 1 status in the Golden Age format. This week I’ll be looking at the latter, but first, let’s take a look at what the metagame is and just how it works.

The metagame, to define it as simply as possible, is the pattern of deckbuilding and deck playing that takes place in the Vs. System world environment—which decks are dominant, which decks are passé, which decks you should prepare for, which decks not to bother preparing for, and so on. It goes farther than that, though. Often, one has to look out for specific cards in addition to specific decks. You might want to prepare for a prevalence of Flame Traps or the evil Nasty Surprise/Overload combination. Mystical Paralysis may not be a bother any more, but Hounds of Ahab and Total Anarchy may be serious considerations. And you may want to curse Jason Grabher-Meyer’s name to the high heavens because you didn’t think to look out for that pesky Juggernaut your opponent just killed you with, all because Jason had to write that stupid article and lie about how useful that second-rate beefstick can be (but I’m not bitter!).

However, the metagame is more complex than that simple definition indicates. As I once proudly proclaimed, there is no metagame. Instead, there is a collective of metagames that directly affect each other. There is a local metagame, a regional metagame, a national metagame, a worldwide metagame, a casual metagame, a PC metagame, a Golden Age metagame, a Modern Age metagame, an online metagame, a net deck metagame . . . the list goes on and on. Each of these metagames affects one another. A metagame on one level often will influence another one and vice-verse. As I put it in an article on the subject, “Think of it as a tide that slowly seeps in towards land and then drifts back out to sea again to reform before it comes back in toward [once more]. That is how each metagame works, constantly shifting and reshaping before reaching its final destination, only to turn around and go back again with yet another, different form.”

The idea is that every time you build a deck that performs well, and other people start using that deck or a variation of that deck, it creates a local metagame. Then, if that deck wins some local tournaments and gets attention on a PCQ level, it begins to spread on a larger scale, creating a regional metagame. Each regional metagame is different. My regional metagame, for example, ignored Teen Titans for a long time, keeping FF Beats and Common Enemy as the top decks. Even now, swarm or League decks and Superman-related decks seem to outnumber the Titans and Curve decks. It’s a bit of an anomaly in terms of existing regional metagames, but it’s a good example of how greatly the metagame can differ from region to region.

If a regional deck reaches the $10K and PC level and performs well, then it will really begin to garner attention and will start to make the circuit on the internet. While a PCQ winner can certainly gain some attention, especially with Metagame.com’s handy weekly listings of PCQ Top 8 decklists, a Top 8 deck in a big money tournament will be the subject of profiles and feature match write-ups. Crazy jank decks that hold their own at big tournaments will also get attention from coverage writers. When those decks hit the ’net, people start building and testing them; we travel from regional and national metagames right into the internet or online metagames, where the net decking begins on a worldwide scale. This is when the metagame filters back down to the regional and local levels, where a deck that has just performed well gets tested and played on a smaller scale in many regions differing from its original home. Then, people in those small local and regional metagames build new decks to deal with the current, dominant one, and those decks will spread back outward and upward towards the international level once again—just like the tide.

This is where the Tier system rears its snobbish head. You may hear people referring to a “Tier 1” deck. Tier 1 essentially means that it’s an A-List, First Team, All-Star deck. A Tier 1 deck dominates just about every metagame, gets net decked by every second player, and starts to appear everywhere in great numbers. If you look at the recent $10K Amsterdam, for example, you’ll notice that 49 of the 166 decks—roughly 30 percent—were Curve Sentinels. This is because Curve Sentinels is the Tier 1 deck dominating the metagame at the moment, with several varieties of this deck fighting for supremacy. To show just how popular it has become, let’s look at the other metagame monsters: Common Enemy had fifteen decks, or roughly nine percent; Titans had eleven decks, or roughly seven percent; upstart TNB blitz had six decks, or roughly four percent; and the rogue X-Stall had five decks, or roughly three percent.

That means that Curve Sentinels was more prevalent at $10K Amsterdam than all of these other former powerhouses combined. It also made four of the Top 8 positions, with only one Common Enemy and one Titans deck representing the other builds. This demonstrates that Curve Sentinels is still the team to beat. In fact, many deckbuilders look at the Curve metagame to prepare for tournaments, knowing that they’ll be facing more Curve Sentinels than anything else. This is the reason that when Curve decks started playing Genosha and Magneto on turn 7, for example, Betrayal became a popular card to add into one’s deck—a couple of Betrayals can wipe out your opponent’s field on turn 7 if he or she is playing Genosha Curve. For another example, now that Hounds of Ahab is becoming increasingly popular, we may see more Flame Traps popping up in future Golden Age decks.

Tier 2 decks are interesting builds, garner attention, and are fairly popular to play, but they haven’t won as many accolades as the Big Boys. Decks like Spider-Friends, Evil Medical School, Cosmic Cops, and Rigged Elections have performed well, but not with the numbers and consistency that the Tier 1 decks have put up. The Brave and the Bold is an example of a deck that really borders on Tier 1, but hasn’t quite reached that level. These are all decks that have made a $10K Top 8 or two (and perhaps even won one), and you see a smattering of them in every tournament. These decks are all clamoring to become Tier 1, but none have really yet proven to be of that caliber.

Every few months, the metagame seems to reset and a new deck rises up to take down the reigning metagame monster when it seems unbeatable. Common Enemy pushed Big Brotherhood so far out of the frame last year that it’s now almost extinct. Shortly afterwards, Teen Titans established itself as the new King of the Metagame, and Common Enemy, although it’s still popular even today (as can be seen by its recent resurgence in Amsterdam), was thrown pretty much to the wayside. X-Stall made a dent at PC: So Cal and became the deck of choice for those who refused to play the “standard” but still wanted a deck that could perform at a high level. Then, the Sentinels came roaring in after flirting with Tier 1 status for months, and they overpowered everything.

And now the new metagame has arrived! When Dean Sohnle won $10K London with his Fantastic Fun deck, he sparked a series of $10K tournaments that were won by new decks, always defeating a field filled with Curve Sentinels along the way. Sohnle’s deck is particularly strong against Curve, which is part of the reason why he has torn apart the European Golden Age metagame, which had been dominated by Curve (particularly Hans Joachim Höh’s Curve) in the previous couple of $10K events.

Dean’s deck is incredibly difficult to play, but when you have someone who is familiar with the deck and knows its nooks and crannies, he or she can absolutely destroy Curve Sentinels and Teen Titans by gaining card advantage and eliminating board control. And unlike Michael Jacob’s untraditional, Longshot-powered Mutant Nation deck from $10K Chicago or Jose Maria Aramburu’s fascinating Brotherhood of Mephisto winner at $10K Madrid, Dean’s deck has proven to be no flash in the pan—it has not only won two $10K tournaments in a row (in only two attempts, no less), but it also took a second place showing at $10K Amsterdam. There, teammate Richard Edbury powered the Fantastic Fun deck to the finals, only to lose to Sohnle.

What this means is that there is a new deck in town with the power and potential to be Tier 1. It’s had proven wins in two varied, strong fields. Now, Curve players need to prepare for Fantastic Fun decks, as we’ll likely see more of them popping up in future $10K events—players looking for an answer to Curve Sentinels may finally have found it.

PC New York, coming up in a month and a half, will likely be the benchmark. If Sohnle, Edbury, and the I Heart Britney squadron bring Fantastic Fun to the PC, we’ll know once and for all whether it’s truly worthy of the Tier 1 status I’m so arrogantly intent on bestowing upon it. In the meantime, we have $10K Paris coming up on April 30. Sohnle has a good shot at becoming not only the first player to win three $10K events, but to win three in a row!

So, keep watching Metagame.com for coverage of $10K Paris and of PC New York, and don’t be surprised when I shout out “I told ya so!”

Also known by his screen name Kergillian, Ben Kalman has been involved in the Vs. community since day one. He started the first major player in the online community, the Vs. Listserv, through Yahoo! Groups, and it now boasts well over 1,300 members! For more on the Yahoo! group, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Marvel_DC_TCG

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